Toxic Colloquia

I don’t know what your experience is, but more often than not, when I hear “Christian” being used in everyday conversation, it is not just used as an adjective, but as an adjective that denotes quality of behavior. For example, “That was not very Christian of him,” or, “That’s not a Christian thing to do.” It is similar to the absurdity of “earning forgiveness,” and it scrapes the drums of my born-again ears like so much sandpaper to skin. At the end of the day, “Christian” is not really an adjective at all, but a noun, having everything to do with our identity as God’s children, and nothing to do with the way Christians behave.

Considering “Christian” as an adjective is comparable to what Anne Lamott says about God having a sense of humor: if He doesn’t have one, “I’m so doomed, none of this matters anyway.” “Christian” as a description of behavior implies an exclusivity, that Christians are not Christians unless they behave a certain way. This is ridiculous. And praise the Lord that this is ridiculous, because if being a Christian has anything to do with behavior, myself and many of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be so doomed, none of this would matter anyway.

Being free of any behavioral qualifications for being saved is much more wonderful than, Whew, now I’m not going to hell. Oh, no, friends. The identity of a Christian is the most beautiful thing I know. My spiritual siblings and myself are “little Christs,” we are the kid brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and we share the same heavenly Father, are made one by the same Holy Spirit. We can try to deny or ignore the love of God, but we cannot shake the spiritual reality that He is always our Father, Jesus is always our Brother, and the Spirit always lives in us.

It’s not about how we feel either. Wherever we are on the palette of human emotions, whether we are in ecstatic elation, sullen remorse, fist-clenching anger, or serious doubt, God is our Father. When we mess up, or fail to keep in toe with whatever doctrine we’ve decided is right, there’s really nothing we can do to change how He loves us. He loves us to the core. He created us and as God said about his Creation: it is good.

Accepting this love of God, whether in the heart or in the head, is easier said than done; I know I puzzle over it. It’s not “of this world,” as they say, because when facing the divine, all the worldly, cultural importance of competition and grudges and categorizing dissolves, and they are revealed as the toxic, false measuring sticks of human value that they are. But God comes in and says, That’s nice that you have a Bachelor’s, I’m genuinely happy for you, but I value you and love you the same as I did yesterday, today and tomorrow: infinitely and indiscriminately. He takes these measuring sticks of value and says, They are finished.

It is not because of us, but because of God, that we are Christians.

It doesn’t mean our bad behavior isn’t bad, and it certainly doesn’t make bad behavior excusable. It doesn’t stop making good behavior good either, or say that good behavior isn’t worth practicing. It doesn’t mean we won’t be held responsible. It means He loves us, He claims us as His own. Christians say, I want in on that love, and God says back, You’ve been in on it since day one.

When we say someone isn’t Christian because of their behavior, it's like saying that God’s indiscriminate love is not enough, or Jesus being our Lord, Savior, and brother, is not enough. There are things we do and things that others do that we don’t like. The disgust manifests in how we use language. Say a Christian does something bad, like rape, pillage, murder, or make a robot to be their a girlfriend. There is a strong inclination to lose sight of divine unity, and loathe that something so precious and primary (the identity of being children of God) is being shared with someone who demonstrated their capability to do something awful. What’s worse: to continue to acknowledge that something so deeply personal is common with the transgressor, we might have to acknowledge that not only are we capable of the behavior displayed by them, but also that we experience versions of the same human condition as them, and we are capable of doing the same things. It can be very uncomfortable, and makes sense culturally to reject the “heathen,” the “witch,” the “infidel,” by saying, That person is a rapist/killed my dog/has a robot for a girlfriend, for that reason, I will not use my words to acknowledge their Christianity no matter how much they use their words to profess it. Spiritually, however, this is rubbish.

I may not like or agree with some things my brothers and sisters do. But they are and always will be my brothers and sisters.

And it’s beautiful, really: the strength of God’s spiritual bond between his children. Because of God’s love, I can claim them as my family.

Because of God’s love, I can love them.


Book Review: The River and the Roses, by Sophia Martin

It’s true that a good way to make an afternoon disappear – or several afternoons if you’re a slow reader like me – is to download and open up Sophia Martin’s novel The River and the Roses. River features high school French teacher Veronica Barry, who, once she overcomes the denial of the psychic abilities she was born with, has a knack for having visions and conversing with the dead. Her involvement with a homicide investigation kicks off with a terrible dream from which she wakes up holding a freshly murdered woman in a park. Tendrils of subplots weave their way to a conclusion, and Bob’s your uncle, there’s your psychic/ghost murder mystery.

It’s also true that, should you choose to make your afternoon(s) disappear in this way, you will be exposed to an insightful message about self-discovery and sacrificial love. Veronica’s ways of willfully ignoring her second sight come to an end when the daughter of her friend-of-twelve-years, Melanie, does not come home from the Valentine’s Day dance. Veronica reluctantly gives in to Melanie’s forceful pleas to use her gift to locate the lost daughter, Angie. After Veronica’s visions lead to the recovery of Angie from the side of a riverbank in another county, Veronica makes the decision to stay tuned in to her clairvoyance, a choice not unaccompanied with struggle.

As external risks go, Veronica faces the potential scrutiny of looking like she’s crazy, and definite scrutiny of being suspected for a con. What living into her gift also means is inviting situations that can be uncomfortable: giving into seeing the visions of past, present, and future that come to her, opening herself up to seeing ghosts and letting them into her head.

Veronica says that finally accepting her gift and purposefully living into it makes her feel, “stronger, and – uncomplicated.” But, like I said, Veronica does continue to grapple with it, a lot. There is no one event where all the emotional lumps smooth out, leaving her with no qualms about her purpose. The dilemmas and uncertainty on her path to self-discovery are explored in introspective monologues, a characteristic of Martin’s writing that can also be found in her first novel, Broken Ones. These dilemmas about risks and negative connotations can be about as discomforting as the more sensory unpleasantries like being surrounded by ghosts at a funeral home. There are times when Veronica wonders if the second sight has any use at all but is “a nuisance, like an eye twitch or an allergy.” There are occasions when she wishes intensely that she could go back to rejecting prescient dreams. But despite all this, Veronica’s psychic purpose wins, as Martin eloquently articulates: “Spiders of shame still crawled in the back of her mind but they had lost their power.”

Traveling the road less comfortable is not primarily motivated by making spiders powerless. It is recollections of Angie’s rescue from the riverbank, and Melanie’s profound gratitude for her daughter’s saved life that fuel Veronica’s determination to go forward. It is for sacrificial love, not the pursuit of personal wholeness, that Veronica stops anesthetizing her second sight. This not only helps Melanie and Angie, but invites opportunities for Veronica to help ghosts and the living alike, running the gamut of aiding murder investigations to saving pet fish.

So there you are. If you want to curl up with a paranormal whodunnit that not only satisfies a craving for murder mystery brain candy, but also dips into the inner life of someone who loves her friends, The River and the Roses is just the ticket. Although, there is a subplot with a fraudulent ex-boyfriend that begs to be developed. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Martin will publish a separate novella on the thread, like she did with Veronica in Paris. Oh, and if you’re sensitive to ghost imagery, there was a brief, visual description that resulted in me sleeping with the light on. Just a warning.